Welcome to St Matthew’s Church, Morley Derbyshire.
Thought for the Month
Welcome to Candlemas
On Sunday 5th February (three days late) we reach the end of Christmas as we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Presentation, also called the Purification of Mary, falls on the 40th day of Christmas, the day cribs should be put away. Ancient Jewish law required that, following the birth of a firstborn son, the mother must come to the Temple after 40 days for purification and to present the child to the Lord, taking a gift of two birds for their priest. Her son needed to be paid for – redeemed – to show that he was lent by God, not given by man, not a bad bit of theology that: lent, not given.
The presentation of Mary’s child, however, was different. This was the Christ Child, the Messiah who had long been promised. And he was recognised as such by old Anna and Simeon, who recognised that here was “a light for all nations”. Thus the image of light carries an important part in today’s worship. For centuries this Feast has been marked by a procession “to meet the Lord” and by the blessing of candles to be used during the year. So it got the popular name Candlemas.
The fact that Jesus and Mary went through all this reminds me that there is a place for folk religion which we would do away with at our peril. The story of Candlemas stops me getting too annoyed and impatient with those we sometimes feel use the church yet are often the first to criticise it. It reminds me that organised religion is bound to have its taboos and inconsistencies – and I’m part of it: I baptise babies of unbelieving parents, marry couples who’ve long been living together, read banns for people who I know won’t come back after their wedding, offer Christian burial to people who haven’t a clue what resurrection is about, even pretending they’ve been upright citizens with a faith no-one knew about. It reminds me that I can’t have a superior spirituality by pretending I’m not part of a peculiar, human, soiled institution – the Church of God. I mean, not just the Church of England.
Candlemas reminds me that Jesus was nurtured within the confines and in the customs of conservative folk religion: It is there that Christianity has its roots. And Christ still takes people as they are and where they are.
The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall